Monday, January 23, 2017

1st 5 Pages January Workshop - Lee Rev 2

Name: Betty Lee
Genre: Young Adult Speculative Fiction


When two ex-best friends visit a grungy motel in Iowa one after another at the tail end of summer, a strange teen takes something from each of them promising they won’t miss it at all.

They won’t remember anything either. That’s how the teen in Room 212 hunts. But he’s not hunting what you expect. And lucky for him, Roxy and Thomas have what the teen feeds on in spades.

After Iowa, everything seems kosher—at first.

Roxy feels better than she has in years as if her body doesn’t need the life-saving meds that were keeping her HIV under control anymore. So she stops taking them.

And Thomas is happy too. He’s not even thinking about the thing that had him in knots for months: the abortion and the baby-not-baby he accidentally fathered the first or second time he had actual sex.

But when Roxy and Thomas spot a pattern of violent interruptions to their mostly idyllic first week of college, the two former best friends realize they must return to the motel in Iowa where they both had mysterious run-ins with a strange teen or the happiness they want will always be tainted by ugly things.



You always remember your first, those big talkers would say after they’d show up for a night at the motel and get caught by my scrawny self with some lady other than their wife.

You don’t say shit like that to a twelve-year-old kid who’s just microwaving the snack he eats most nights while watching bad TV in his room while he parents works.

These big talkers, they’d say it all sad. Like they were trying to tell me something. Or beg for something.

Week after week, year after year, they’d say this stuff like they believed it.

But that’s crap, eh, Cabron?

Me, I remember waking up with air in my mouth the taste of abuela in her coffin, all powdered and cobweb stale. Hunger like a rage inside me. I don’t brush my teeth, or clean the crust from my brown eyes. My boxers are sitting mostly on my hips before I push my way out of Room 212, through this cut of dusty light. It’s the kind you notice because it’s full of things we don’t normally see with our eyes until things shift just so.

That dusty light follows me. I move through it.

Outside, this old woman sits by the pool, smoking even though that sign I had to put up there two summers back tells her not to do it. Most days, I would brush past, head off motel property, to meet one of my boys in town.

But that hunger, Cabron, that hunger whispered to me. In my mother’s voice.

Duérmete mi niño

duérmete mi amor.

Duérmete pedazo de mi corazón.

And that’s why I did it. Why I crossed the line and why that woman, smoking and crying, why she turned that chlorine pool I used to have to clean all salt.

That’s all I remember. Not the taste. Not the comfort. Only my mother’s voice in song and salt water.

But yeah, of course, Cabron, you knew it would go down like this, didn’t you? You knew it was crap. But you fed it to me anyhow. And like one of those sad, desperate people, I listened to you.

What you told me about husks in Room 212, I’ll tell you, it made a lot more sense the morning after. That woman, she blew away like one of those old school cartoon desert tumbleweeds with a smile on her face—and when the hunger flashed back double strong, I started searching the motel for who’s next.

Roxy Noxy

I’m leaning against my hand-me-down Chevy Malibu station wagon’s back bumper, arms crossed, knees braced together. Not because I’m wearing a skirt, but because I feel safer. The smell of gasoline in my nose is screwed up comfort, but it’s still comfort. And I need it today.

Goodbyes are hard.

My dad clears his throat.

I try hard to remember all the reasons this moment should feel so good.




But first, one more pizza dinner from the place mom likes but dad hates, one more walk through the neighbourhood, one more night in my childhood bedroom where all I don’t have to worry about leaving behind memories of sleepovers, or boyfriends, or any of that high school nonsense. For me, it’s a room with painted walls. That’s it.

All my furniture is in the U-Haul. It weighs the thing down more than I thought.

Dad clears his throat again and I’m drawn out of my mind and back to the problem at hand. Getting my stuff to college all the way across the country. From Maine to Colorado.

“Looks pretty low, don’t you think?” I ask, shifting my weight from the wagon so I can throw a sneakered foot on top of the hitch.

He grabs hold of my arm and pushes me up so I’m balanced on it. He says, “Jump,” and I do.

But I’m not sure why.

I guess this is growing up.

Dad lets go of my arm, backs up onto our decidedly not-green lawn. “Looks okay to me.”

“You sure?”

He’s about to respond, his head tilted a little off to the left like he does when he’s thinking, when my mom, who is inside the house, lets out a scream.

My dad stops.

The world stops.

I choke mid-inhale, waiting, not sure what kind of scream this is. When the noise becomes clear, she’s screaming my name.

Dad is about to offer to go inside on my behalf. I know he’ll offer. But he knows I’ll shrug it off.

I jut my chin at my four-year old sister, who is playing on the lawn with an underinflated football. “Stay here, Ori,” I order.

And dad says, “If it’s bad…”

I know what he means so I don’t waste my breath on a response. I run up the three concrete steps, swing the screen open, and catch sight of my mom in the kitchen. She’s covered in blood.

Well, not covered. But there’s enough to turn my stomach.

Blood and me don’t get along. For good reasons.

But mom needs my help. Not dad’s. Certainly not Ori’s. My help.

Even now—bloody and upset—the kitchen is really where my mom’s at her best.

I step further inside. “What did you do this time?”

Sometimes she’ll say her vision blurs. Or her hand jerks. Her muscles get weak. Sometimes she’s just tired out. Mom’s an ex-junkie and she’s reminded of that every day of her life. And I am too.

“The knife… it slipped,” she says.

I pull her hand close. Her index finger is cut open along the secondary fold line. And it looks deep. Maybe to the bone.

I take her hand in mine, putting pressure on the wound without finding a pair of latex gloves first. Her blood is mine, after all.

“They sell pre-chopped pecans these days, you know that, mom?”

“They’re more expensive,” she says.

I laugh a bit. “That’s the truth.”

Mom relaxes. I do too. This is our life. Better than anyone, mom understands me.

I’m trying to force the Band-Aid to hold the wound closed, when Ori, who doesn’t listen, who doesn’t get any of this, not at all, runs into the kitchen. She has dirt smeared under her eyes like the Friday night Hamlin High footballers do.

Both mom and I yell at the same time: “Stop.”

Ori freezes on the spot, like it’s some kind of weird game.

I haven’t had the heart to tell her the footballers don’t use actual dirt.

But then Ori’s face slips. Tracks run from her eyes until she looks like we don’t bathe her.

I guess it sounds as if we’re mad at her. But we’re not.

Mom’s upset about all the loose blood. I’m only angry—and a bit nauseated—and taking it out on my kid sister like I might hate her for something that’s not her fault.

But isn’t not mine either.

I used to think this anger would, I don’t know, fade. Instead, something inside me simmers, even now. Last summer I convinced myself it was a little devil, or The Devil himself, brewing inside of me. And I can’t tell you how much I liked thinking the anger didn’t really belong to me.

Blaming it on someone—something—else felt damn good.

I’m holding my mom’s hand too tight, listening to Ori cry. Mom’s whole body tightens, as if anger transfers from body to body easy as all that.


  1. Hey Betty,

    I’m excited to see what you’ve done! I've given my comments in two parts.

    Here’s a great resource for you to look at concerning the creation of a pitch. Brenda Drake is a permanent mentor here at 1st 5 Pages, and she’s collected a lot of great material to help authors on her website. The link is:

    Part One:

    Let’s look at your pitch.

    A pitch is a teaser, but a teaser with real information in it. You’ve hinted, but you haven’t said what is going on. An agent needs to know what the story is about and doesn’t have time to piece all the information together.

    I don’t understand your opening line. If two best friends are visiting a motel, what do you mean one after another? Wouldn’t they visit the motel together? Name your characters up front to avoid confusion. What does the strange teen take? You have to convince the agent you know what you’re talking about, so no secrets.

    Your second paragraph is murky. Using the word teen feels odd. Just say boy. The sentence: “That’s how the teen in Room 212 hunts,” doesn’t make sense because the sentence before it just says they don’t remember anything. So how do those two sentences correlate? As is they don’t.

    I’m confused by the term: “baby-not-baby.”

    So, your pitch needs more work to clear up what your story is about. I’m not sure because you’re being cryptic. You can’t do that in a query. What violent interruptions? How do they know it stems from the motel? What are the ugly things that taint their lives? Use specifics. You don’t need many, just enough to show you know what your story is about and can tell it with authority.

    Okay, let’s get on with your revisions!

    “You always remember your first, those big talkers would say after they’d show up for a night at the motel and get caught by my scrawny self with some lady other than their wife.”

    First what?

    Let’s try and clear this up.

    “You always remember your first.”
    A big talker usually says that after a night at the motel with someone other than his wife. Like I care.”

    The above is streamlined. It personalizes the first line.

    Reread what you’ve written. There are some misspelled words and missing punctuation.

  2. Part Two:

    You wrote: “My boxers are sitting mostly on my hips before I push my way out of Room 212, through this cut of dusty light. It’s the kind you notice because it’s full of things we don’t normally see with our eyes until things shift just so.”

    Think about cleaning this imagery up. Example: “My boxers sit mostly on my hips before I push my way out of room 212. It's then I walk through a cut of dusty light—the kind you notice because it’s full of things we don’t normally see with our eyes until things shift just so.”

    I’m not terribly fond of the boxer sentence. What do boxers sitting on his hips have to do with pushing his way out of the room? Give it some kind of weight. In other words, why are you telling me about his boxers? It would read better if you said something like: “My boxers sit mostly on my hips, the one piece of clothing I concede to wear, before I push my way out of room 212.” Just adding that little bit gives it a purpose, though the reader will still wonder why he only wear boxers when he leaves his motel room.

    “That dusty light follows me. I move through it.” If the light is following him, how can he move through it? To do so he’d have to walk backwards.

    “But that hunger, Cabron, that hunger whispered to me.” You’re writing in first person present tense so it has to read “whispers to me."

    The tricky part about using a foreign language is that unless your readers know that language, they won’t know what you’re trying to say. Your character is revealing why he did it (whatever it is) and you don’t give any clues as to what the words mean. You’re writing for teens. Be careful you don’t relate your story in such a cryptic manner that you lose your audience.

    “He grabs hold of my arm…” Tighten your prose by getting rid of redundant words. “He grabs my arm…” is a smoother way to write.

    The line about footballers don’t use actual dirt feels plopped in. You had it somewhere else before where it fit better.

    Loose blood is an odd image. What does that actually mean? How is blood loose? Do you mean to say she’s upset about all the blood? That it’s everywhere? If so, just say that because loose blood doesn’t make sense.

    “But isn’t not mine either.” This isn’t a grammatically correct sentence. It should read: “But it isn’t mine either.”

    Your doing great with your changes. Now's the time to go over this and make sure you don’t have any misspelled words and muddy sentence constructions. Look at your imagery. Is it clear what you’re trying to relate? If you’re in doubt, run it past someone you trust without explaining it first. If they can tell you without you hinting at what you’re trying to say, then you’ve nailed it. If not, you need to rethink it.

    You are doing really well. I admire how you’ve taken your story and really held onto its core as you’ve wrestled with your revisions. Great job!


    1. Thank you Shea! Your time and comments have been invaluable!



    This query is gripping, though a little long. I think the beginning could be condensed a bit. I'm also a little concerned about the college setting, given that this is meant to be YA. That being said, there's plenty of conflict here and the stakes are clearly quite high (though I think the phrase "or the happiness they want will always be tainted by ugly things" is vague). Still, the pitch gets the job done overall!

    Pages: The voice here is very compelling. I particularly liked Roxy's section. It was full of conflict and character development, and it gave a clear picture of the kind of life she's been living. I'd definitely keep reading. One tip: try not to overuse paragraph breaks. They're great when you want something to really stand out, but if you use them over and over again, the effect is lost, and you end up interrupting the flow of the prose. This goes for the pitch as well.

    1. Thanks so much Lauren!!

      I really appreciate your time and your feedback.


  4. Pitch: A solid start but needs honing. As I've mentioned about the ms itself, it feels like there are TOO MANY THINGS and I don't know how to weight them. Grungy (Iowa?) motel. Strange teen hunter. HIV. Abortion. College. It feels like a list of TEEN ISSUES with a paranormal edge. I can't quite parse out the CORE of the story in terms of plot or, more importantly, character, within these sentences. Also, you want to convey your writing talents even here in this "business" context so you want to steer well clear of info-dumping. This is clearly a big concept book so I get that it's hard to contain everything in the pitch but, remember, the ONLY job of the pitch is to get the agent/editor to ask for more. SO...I'd worry less about getting it all in and narrow the focus of your pitch to one or two compelling elements of the narrative that will draw your professional reader in both style-wise and content-wise.
    REVISION: I like it SO MUCH BETTER without the prologue. That said, the Danel chapter still feels...what's the word?..."hedgy" to me. All this stuff about some old woman (is she an important character? will we hear about her again? because right now it's all very confusing and maybe distracting); I get that Danel is slippery but that's all the more reason you have to give readers something tangible or important or they're not going to bother to try to hold on. ROXY chapter is much better--maybe it should be the first chapter? That said, I agree with Lauren's comment about line breaks.
    FINAL THOUGHTS: When you are a strong, poetic writer like yourself, teasing out the plot from the language and world-building can be the trickiest part of building your manuscript. I'd recommend Donald Maas's WRITING THE BREAKOUT NOVEL for some very clear info on plotting techniques. Also, I'd take a look at Sarah Porter's YA novel, VASSA IN THE NIGHT--she employs magic realism and amazing language but still keeps her story squarely in the Young Adult realm in terms of plot/character development in a way that you might find both interesting and instructive.
    Best of luck and happy writing! - Stasia

    1. Hi Stasia!

      Thank you.

      You've been tough on me, but I so need it!


  5. Your concept is intriguing!

    "When two ex-best friends visit a grungy motel in Iowa one after another at the tail end of summer, a strange teen takes something from each of them promising they won’t miss it at all."
    Here, I'd like the names right up front since we'll be following them through the story. I'd also like more specifics than "something" with regards to what's taken.

    " But he’s not hunting what you expect." Again, I want to know more. The mystery here is not as enticing as knowing more about the story would be.

    The stakes in your last sentence seem great. I'd love more specifics than "ugly things."

    The pages:

    "You don’t say shit like that to a twelve-year-old kid who’s just microwaving the snack he eats most nights while watching bad TV in his room while he parents works." I didn't understand this. Is the "troubled teen" the 12 yo? Does he have parents? From
    his actions, I thought that he was on his own.

    I still don't understand who Cabron is or what he takes from the old woman (or the teens) and want something more concrete to convince me to keep reading.

    I think your second scene is easier to follow.

    "I try hard to remember all the reasons this moment should feel so good." - I like this line. I think it says a lot about your mc. I also like this part:
    “They sell pre-chopped pecans these days, you know that, mom?”

    “They’re more expensive,” she says.

    I laugh a bit. “That’s the truth.”
    It shows their connection.

    " loose blood" feels like an odd way to describe it.

    I wish you all the best with your revisions and query your story!

    1. Thanks very much Rebecca!

      I wish you all the best!


  6. Hi Betty,

    For your pitch, can you be more specific? The first two paragraphs feel very vague to me.

    As for the pages, I think you've done some great work with Roxy's section. Do be wary of paragraph breaks. They make things seem melodramatic. However, I'm still very confused reading Dañel's section. If you're going to open with him, I think you need to get more specific about his life at the motel and what exactly he's doing to the guests. Don't be afraid to spend some more time with him. At this point, all I know is that he is doing not-nice things, but I want to get a better sense of what those things are.

    Thanks for sharing! I've really enjoyed reading your pages!

    1. Hi Sam!

      Thanks very much for your time, and I wish you the very best!


  7. Hi Betty! I'll jot my thoughts down as I go.

    Pitch: Let me weed out a lot of issues in this by saying: Find your three most (the story wouldn't exist without them) facts, being - wants, goals, & conflict - and tease the reader with those. The sole purpose of your query is to leave the reader (an agent/editor) wanting more. Simplify. I know it can feel tough, but you have the material right there. You've already created it. Just weed it our.

    Revision 2: This revision felt so much clearer to me. The voices you're creating are striking. I definitely feel them. I tend to gravitate more easily to Roxy's section because it feels more complete, thought out, like there's a path and purpose to what's happening and how she's feeling.

    Danel's section is powerful, but the beginning ... for me felt kind of ... scattered. I had a hard time following what was going on with some woman and such. I feel like there were too many paragraph breaks and I couldn't follow the first few sentences because I don't know enough about the story yet. When my inner reader did stand up and say 'Wait. What was that?' was when 'Hunger like a rage...' begins. After that I found myself wanted to keep reading.

    All in all you've done a tone of work here. Bravo! I hope these brief comments have helped. Best of luck with this.

    1. Hi Sheri,

      Thanks for your feedback this week. I so appreciate your time and the energy you've put into my story.


  8. Hi Betty. You've really done a fantastic job with revisions. The pages have come a long way. After reading your pitch, I wonder if this is a horror novel, not speculative fiction. It sounds almost like a vampire-type story, even though the boy in the hotel isn't after blood. Have you read Dr. Sleep by Stephen King? I think it would be worth checking out. The villains in the story feed on those with the "Shining." The difference I see between Danel's and Roxy's section is that Danel's is all introspection. It reads like he's writing a letter to Cabron. That's fine, but then Roxy's chapter is all action, and I found myself much more drawn to her because she's doing something. I can't actually "see" what Danel is doing. The other comments have picked up the same things that struck me while I was reading. You've done a great job and are really close to making this stellar. Put it away for a few weeks and look at it fresh. I wish you luck with your writing!